Education is not a luxury, it is a birthright. But what happens when your child is deaf? In Ghana, TAQA has helped financially support the Sekondi School for the Deaf. And put a few smiles on the faces of some extraordinary pupils
They sit around wooden desks watching teacher Joanna Affel’s every gesture. Children of all ages smile when she pushes two fingers of her right hand on to the palm of her left one. “Standing up … the girl is standing up,” Ms Affel says as she turns her words into hand signs.
At the Sekondi School for the Deaf, silence is interspersed with laughter. “They are happy to be in school,” says Ms Affel. “You see them smiling and laughing when I enter the room. They want to be here … they want to learn.”
Just 10 minutes’ drive from TAQA’s Takoradi 2 Power Plant on the Southwest coast of Ghana, the school nestles down a leafy side road, protected from the outside world by rows of palm and evergreen trees.
Inside the gates, brightly coloured sign language is daubed on the walls to remind the students that help is never far away. “It’s difficult for deaf children to get basic education,” says Benjamin Abeku Arkorful- Otoo, Head of Human Resources at TAQA’s Ghana operation.
“They think they will never amount to anything … and this issue is compounded by poverty. That is why TAQA puts in the resources to help these children to do well,” he adds, pointing out that the company has helped financially support the Sekondi School for the past five years.
But while dollars and cents are important, the main currency here is love and compassion. Making the pupils feel they have a future and a place in society is just as crucial as the school curriculum. “These children need a lot of care … a lot of love, so they can feel accepted,” says Mr Arkorful-Otoo.
“If they feel accepted, they can start to lead a normal life. If the teachers cannot show that care and love, the children can never feel accepted. I think the teachers are doing very well, as when you go to the school, you can always see the children smiling.”
At the last count, there were 293 pupils aged between four and 16 with a teaching staff of 25. On average, there are around 15 to 20 students to each class with the focus being on traditional subjects such as arithmetic and English.
“Before children are admitted for the year, we assess their hearing levels and we put them on a pre-school programme,” says Francis Harry Dzadze, headmaster at Sekondi School. “We teach them the basic things they will need. For instance, since they cannot pronounce their ABCs orally, we teach them sign language. We use our fingers.”
But the fact that the pupils are deaf should not act as a barrier to education. Capturing their imaginations by helping them reach their potential appears engrained in the teaching philosophy at the school. Obviously, there are challenges, as Ms Affel is quick to explain.
“When I first started at Sekondi, there were different priorities to help educate the children. Making sure they understood the lessons was vital,” she says. “But after three weeks, I realised the students were enjoying the experience and making progress. I was so happy.”
Happiness, harmony and an overwhelming sense of achievement are evident at the school.
“You can see that the children are happy and content here,” adds Ms Affel as she looks out across the playground at the end of another day. “We are here to give them hope and a better future.”